A Selection from the Da Bao Ji Jing or Maharatnakuta-sutra
["Sutra Which Is An Repository of Great Jewels"] (Taisho
Tripitaka #310, roll 10, 56c4-57c7).
Primary translator: Ronald Epstein
Translation reviewed by: Dharma Master Heng Shun and Dharma Master Heng Sure.
The following story, which is excepted from the Maharatnakuta-sutra, is a remarkable one in many respects. For modern scientifically oriented people who have been brought up on myths about the limitations of the primitive cosmologies of ancient peoples, the story should be an eye-opener. The Venerable Mahamaudgalyana, a disciple of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni during the sixth century B.C., travels to another planet, which is inhabited by giant people and on which there is also a Buddha with disciples cultivating under his guidance. One might ask how long it took for the modern Western scientific world to reach the point of seriously considering sentient life on other worlds.
This is also a cautionary tale. On the one hand, it warns us of the danger of arrogance about our own abilities and understandings. In the course of events Mahamaudgalyayana comes to realize the limitations of his own abilities and the extent of the Buddha's compassion, wisdom and power. On the other hand, the story decries superficial prejudice and ridicule of those who appear to be different than ourselves. The Buddha of that other world teaches his disciples that, although Mahamaudgalyayana seems ridiculously tiny and inconsequential to them, there is much to him that does not immediately meet their eyes; he is really worthy of their great respect. Here we have a lesson, thousands of years old, that not only should people of other cultures and ethnic groups be granted our respect, but even people of other worlds!
These themes have been emphasized not because they constitute the core message of the story, but because they might easily be overlooked in consideration of the main topic, which is the range of the Buddha's proclamation of the Dharma.
Vajrapani again spoke to the Bodhisattva Quiet Resolve: 'I am now observing everywhere: in the worlds of the heavens--all the mara and brahma gods, the sramanas, Brahmins, and all the other gods and humans. None is able to find any limit to the range of the sound of the words proclaimed by the Thus Come One. Why? I personally recall how it was when the World-Honored One was on Grdhrakuta Mountain, surrounded by a retinue of all the Bodhisattvas, and was promulgating for the sake of vast numbers of living beings a scripture of Dharma called "Field of Pure Sound".
'At the time the worthy Great Maudgalyayana, who was near the Bodhisattva Compassionate One (i.e., Maitreya), had this thought: "I wish to test how far the sound of the Thus Come One carries." Then the Great Maudgalyayana suddenly disappeared from his seat. [Reappearing] on the summit of Mount Sumeru, he heard the sound of the Buddha as if he were right in front of him. He then used spiritual power to journey to the very edge of this Great World-System of a Billion Worlds. He passed through myriads of worlds, each with its Mount Sumeru, four continents, and all the rings of Iron Mountain Ranges. On the summit of the very farthest ring of Iron Mountains, he still heard the sound of the Buddha. It was just as before, without any difference, as if it were near and not far away.
'The Buddha thought to himself, "Maudgalyayana wishes to test the Field of Pure Sound of the Thus Come Ones. I had better reveal that spiritual power now." And then the Buddha revealed it.
'At that time Maudgalyayana perceived the Buddha's sagely intent and received spiritual power from him. The portion of the western regions to which he went was far away. He passed through Buddhalands as numerous as the grains of sand in ninety-nine Ganges Rivers to a Buddha's world-system called Banner of Light. And in that land a Buddha named King of Light, a Thus Come One, a Perfectly True One (arhat), an Equally and Properly Enlightened One (samyaksambuddha), was right then speaking the Dharma. Maudgalyayana went there and, in that Buddhaland as before, heard the Buddha's voice just as a person standing before him would hear his words.
'In the Buddhaland Banner of Light, the light is very bright. The body of the Buddha of that land is twelve miles (forty li) tall, and the bodies of all the Bodhisattvas are six miles (twenty li) tall. The bowls from which the Bodhisattvas eat are a third of a mile (one li) high.
'After Maudgalyayana alighted atop the rim of a bowl, all the Bodhisattvas asked that World-Honored One, "Great Sage, please tell us where this bug, who is wearing the clothes of a sramana (i.e., a monk) and has alighted on the rim of this bowl, came from."
Then that Buddha said, "All of you sons of good families, be careful not to be purposely disrespectful towards this worthy one. Why? This elder's name is Great Maudgalyayana. Among all the great sravaka (lit. 'Hearer', i.e., Arhat) disciples of the Buddha Shakyamuni, he is foremost in spiritual powers (shen dzu)."
'Then the Buddha King of Light said to the Great Maudgalyayana, "The Bodhisattvas and all the sravakas in my land saw that your esteemed body is small and all became disrespectful. If you have received the sagely permission of the Buddha Shakyamuni, whose virtue is awesome, you, humane one, should display your spiritual powers."
'At that time the Great Maudgalyayana went to where the Buddha King of Light was and bowed at his feet. Then, after circumambulating that Buddha in a clockwise direction seven times, he stood in front of him and said, "With this very body I wish to sit in full lotus position. Will this place be large enough to for my body to fit in?"
'That Buddha said, "Whatever will please you."
'Then the Great Maudgalyayana leapt eighty million feet up into the sky. There, in that treasured realm, he then created a couch and sat in full lotus position upon it. From that location, sitting upon the couch, he suspended ten billion nayutas of precious pearl necklaces all variously named. Each pearl of each necklace emitted a hundred thousand rays of light. In each ray of light was a lotus flower. And a body of the Buddha Shakyamuni appeared sitting atop each one of those lotus flowers. Their voices sounded like that of Shakyamuni. With clarity and purity they proclaimed the Sutras, in just the same way as he proclaims them, without any difference.
'Then the great Maudgalyayana, having finished displaying his spiritual powers, returned to his place in front of that Buddha. At that time all those Bodhisattvas obtained what they never had before. They wondered about it, and so they said to that Buddha, "Why has the Great Maudgalyayana come to this world?"
'That World-Honored One said to them, "He came to this land because he wished to test how far the sound of the Buddha Shakyamuni travels."
'Then the Buddha King of Light said to the worthy one, Great Maudgalyayana, "Humane one, it is not fitting to test how far the sound of the Thus Come Ones, the Perfectly True Ones, travels; it has no limit, no far or near. How could you wish to know the limits of its auspiciousness? That is an extremely great error. Maudgalyayana, if you, humane one, were to use your spiritual powers to pass through kalpas to the numbers of grains of sands in the rivers and travel in a westerly direction without resting, you would still not get to know all the places where the sound of the Thus Come Ones is heard. The vast extent of the sound of the Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones, absolutely transcends any limits. Their sound is majestic and infinite, and not even subject to understanding by means of analogy."
'At that time the great Maudgalyayana prostrated himself at the feet of that World-Honored One and personally repented of his transgressions: "Yes, World-Honored One, because I myself was not intelligent enough to understand that the sound of the Buddhas has no limit, unfortunately I wished to know what was the farthest distance at which it could still be heard."
'[The Buddha] King of Light then said to Maudgalyayana, "Even so, you came from far away and passed through Buddha-worlds as numerous as the sands in ninety-nine rivers to get to this Buddhaland."
'Maudgalyayana again spoke to that Buddha, "O God among gods, [I have come] extremely far, extremely far indeed. My body is so extremely fatigued that I cannot return to my homeland."
'That World-Honored One said to him, "Maudgalyayana, what is your opinion? Did you use your own spiritual power to get to this world? Do not take that view. You are here in this world because of the awesome power of the virtue of the World-Honored One Shakyamuni. From afar you should take refuge with the Buddha Shakyamuni and bow your head in worship of him. Through the sagely intent of that Buddha, you, humane one, will be able to return to your homeland. Esteemed one, if you wished to use your own spiritual power to return to your homeland, even after a kalpa you would still not have arrived there. Esteemed one, since you would not have arrived, you would not be there in time to see the Buddha Able and Humane (i.e. Shakyamuni) enter Nirvana. Maudgalyayana, what is your opinion? What region am I in: east, south, west, or north?"
'Maudgalyayana answered, "I do not know what direction. Because I am now disoriented, I don't know where my homeland is or in what direction it is."
'That World-Honored One said to Maudgalyayana, "The Buddha Shakyamuni is east of here."
'Then the Great Maudgalyayana put his right knee on the ground and placed his palms together, taking refuge towards the east, where the Buddha Shakyamuni was. At that time he spoke these verses:
"The One who alone is honored by both gods and humans,
Who is seen to bestow his strength and thoughts of compassion,
Whose awesome power of virtue reaches great and majestic heights;
The One whom both gods and humans revere,
Whose sound travels infinitely,
And whose wisdom is without bound;
His is the land in which I wish to reappear,
And so I now desire to return there."
'So it is, Quiet Resolve, that the sound of all Buddhas, World-Honored Ones is without bound or limit.'
'As the Buddha Shakyamuni was ambling atop Grdhakuta Mountain, Shariputra heard the loud voice transmitted by the worthy Great Maudgalyayana and wondered about the reason for it, but it was the worthy Ananda who first asked the Buddha, "Who is it who is now asking in such a loud voice to return from so far away and take refuge?"
'The Buddha said to Ananda, "The Great Maudgalyayana has been in the Western regions for many years. He traveled through Buddhalands to the number of grains of sand in ninety-nine rivers and reached a world called Banner of Light. The Buddha of that land is called King of Light Thus Come One, a Perfectly True One, who is right now speaking the Dharma there. It has been many years since the Great Maudgalyayana reached that Buddhaland, and because he now desires to return to this land, he has transmitted his strong and clear voice from that far away place."
'Ananda asked further, "Why did he go to that Buddhaland?"
'The Buddha told Ananda, "When the Great Maudgalyayana arrives, you can ask him what his intentions were."
'Then everyone in the great assembly said to the Buddha, "We would be pleased if we could get to see the Banner of Light world and the Buddha King of Light, a Thus Come One, a Perfectly True One, an Equally and Properly Enlightened One, and to observe what the Great Maudgalyayana is doing in his land."
'At that time the World-Honored One, seeing that all in the assembly were strongly in support of that opinion, emitted a great light called Perceived by All (ju shou) from the mark between his eyebrows. It illuminated all the Buddha-worlds to the number of grains of sand in ninety-nine rivers and reached all the way to the Buddhaland Banner of Light. What that great light illuminated was seen by all those in the assembly, so that everyone observed King of Light, the Buddha of that land, a Thus Come One, a Perfectly True One. When the Great Maudgalyayana saw the light, he bowed to the ground and called out in a loud voice.
'At that time the World-Honored One, the Buddha Shakyamuni told the worthy Great Maudgalyayana to ride that light back to his own land. Then, relying on the Buddha-light, Maudgalyayana, in the space of a thought, returned to this land. He bowed his head at the Buddha's feet and circumambulated him seven times in a clockwise direction. Afterwards he stood before the Buddha, repented, and took refuge. He reproached himself once again, saying, "I was extremely confused. The sound of the Thus Come Ones has no limits, yet I wanted to test its range. The most distant point I reached was exceedingly far away, yet the sound that I heard there was the same as it is now; I perceived it as if it were near and not far away. The sound of the Thus Come Ones has a majestic range, without bound."
'The Buddha said, "So it is, Maudgalyayana, just as you say. The sound of the Thus Comes Ones penetrates far, even beyond that which can be understood by analogy. Wishing to know the range of the sound of the Thus Come Ones is like wanting to make boundaries by placing limits on space. Why? Like space, which pervades everywhere and is boundless, the sound of the words of the Thus Come Ones carries without any limit to its extent, and so too does it return from far away."'